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What is the Self?

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by Reb Gutman Locks @ Mystical Paths

     Eastern religions get pretty wrapped up in this question. It can be the reason for a lifetime of searching (or according to them, lifetimes). Millions of people meditate every day, day after day, asking, “What am I?”

     So called “self-help programs” also like to send you on this search. After all, according to them, if you do not know what you really are, how can you be happy, let alone be successful? 

     What does the Torah say about the self? What am I?

     To understand this you first have to learn how G-d created (and still this very moment continues to create) the creation. First, there is the idea tzimtzum.

Simply stated; before creation there was only Hashem and there was not even a thought of there being anything other than Hashem. There was not even a place for anything else. Since there was no place to put the upcoming creation, Hashem had to tzimtzum Himself in such a way as to create the appearance of something other than the One Infinite Being. There are two distinct and vastly different definitions of the word tzimtzum. It can either mean “contract”, or it can mean “hide”. In either event, in some way, G-d had to “squish” Himself in such a way to allow the appearance of “others”.

     The deepest understanding is, at every level, and in every way, and in every time, there is nothing other than Hashem. If you are uncomfortable with this concept think in terms of the Infinite. By definition, since the infinite is endless, there can be nothing other than the infinite. Yet, there is the finite! How do we answer this? The Infinite is All (including the finite), but the finite is not Infinite.

     Back to us; G-d fills and surrounds everything at all times, but He does so in a way that none of the creation realizes that He is all, including them.

     So when I say “I am”, I am a finite being speaking from a finite perspective, and I am referring to what I call myself, i.e. individual identification.

     It is well known that our bodies are made of the dust of the earth and will return to the dust, and our souls, our life force, is a portion of Hashem that He spreads into us. So if my body is dust, and my soul is Hashem, what am I? I am the “little, individual i am”, and Hashem is the “big I Am”. The big I Am includes all of the little i am(s).

     At 120, after I leave my body, what I will be calling “me” at that stage will not be the finite man that I call myself today. I will then think of myself as an individual, finite soul.

     But then, as things get even higher, and if they get high enough, even the individual distinction of soul will cease as the Life-force that was vivifying me as an individual returns to its Source.

     So what am I? Well, it all depends on who you are talking to. Are you talking to Gutman? Then I am a squished “i” living life as a Jewish man running around trying to help my Creator. If you are talking to my soul, then my soul will have to answer, “I am a ray of the Infinite Life that fills all, and right here is vivifying Gutman.”

     So should we spend lifetimes searching for ourselves? We have much better things to look for. For instance; what are we supposed to be doing with our self? How can we best fulfill our potential? How can we help to make the world a better place? When we spend our time answering these kinds of questions we will not have time to waste on circular puzzles.

See: Visual Demonstrations Explaining the One

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